Friday, 8. January 2016 23:13 | Author:admin
Note: I had the great pleasure to guest on the show Education Talk Radio with Larry Jacobs to discuss this article and other things. The recording can be found here
To say that the world of education today is complicated would be a radical understatement. Administrators, classroom teachers, and parents struggle together (and sometimes struggle against one another) through a morass of opportunities, pitfalls, and choices. Under the banner of “Twenty-first Century Learning” (a title that gets less impressive each year) schools struggle to find ways to effectively integrate digital resources into the classroom and curriculum. With the purest of intentions schools sail on a sea of murky options, STEM (STEAM, STREAM), Blended Leaning, Flipped Classroom, 1×1, and at every turn there are choices, choices, choices, each with a price tag, a time commitment, and a hoped for outcome. Standing on a precipice, the educator is pressed to “Choose wisely.”
And to some extent it is a deck that is stacked against us, for there are no correct choices and no right paths. Most digital tools have a short time of usefulness and then they are quickly tossed aside. Outcomes of new instruction models (unless they are measured on immediate, limited value, standardized testing) don’t show true effectiveness for years. In a competitive marketplace it is impossible to select a product or program without being criticized by proponents of the alternative. The only comfort in making these choices is that to do nothing in a changing environment is equally hazardous. The future is coming, and it will happen through you or to you.
One way to approach digital choices in school and classroom is to stop listening to (and making) predictions and focusing instead on trends. Predictions for the future of digital education are based on the definitive information of today and indicate a clear path. The problem with this is that this path is often inflexible and sometimes wrong. Trend analysis recognizes areas of focus and develops ongoing and flexible strategy to address these. An auto manufacturer may predict that there will be flying cars by 2015 and put all resources toward that goal. While this prediction may come true, other factors might come into play that either surpass this goal or go in another direction. Perhaps the introduction of another dimension to automotive travel doesn’t increase reliability, dependability, or safety. On the other hand, a second manufacturer might note that people respond well to greater automation in cars and spend its resources discovering and following this trend. This manufacturer has a far greater range of actions and a far greater opportunity for success. Predictions often lead down blind alleys; trend analysis gives full flexibility to recognize and adapt to a changing future
The same too often proves true for schools; a limited prediction blocks the larger trend. One key trend that is seen in the digital world of education and in general is the move from greater and greater mobility. From the enormous machines of the dawn of computing to desktop machines, to laptops, to tablets and phones, devices have grown smaller, more powerful, and portable. This trend has huge ramifications on all aspects of classroom instruction, and immense pitfalls for lack of flexible planning. School A may decide that the FLIM FLAM MICROTABLET is a truly revolutionary device and predict that this device will be the foundation of their program for the next decade. While this prediction might prove true, it is equally possible that another device may come to surpass it, and the school is locked into a less effective option. School B may identify the trend of mobile individual computing for students and develop a strategy to consistently find the best option to meet this need. In trend approaches, no plans are tied to model or brand, but to essential function.
One does not have to look far to find a number of similar trends in education brought about by the digital revolution. The textbook across the desk has a clear shelf life, as the economic realities of publishing will push textbook companies off paper and into digital products. Early predictions saw no further than a digital reproduction of a paper book, pictures of pages. However, if we follow the trend of a new textbook, there are opportunities to envision products that transcend the “words and pictures” limitations of paper books to integrate sounds, videos, links, and even adaptable instruction and assessment. The same could be said about a paper-less environment (less paper, not paperless). With the growing number of classes with individual devices, the medium of paper for the transmission of data seems a wasteful and impractical choice. However, many can point to the bold predictions in the early 1990s of a true paperless future were mocked by the ensuing glut of paper use as personal printers quadrupled consumption. The trend that we will find practical alternatives to paper use allows us the flexibility to do what’s best and even to envision new applications before unseen (and certainly unpredicted).
Similar trends can be observed (and predictions made) in every area of instruction. It is clear there will be new instruction models and new delivery systems. It is clear that student work will take new forms to meet the abilities of tools and the needs of the time. It is clear that social media will play an important role in human interaction inside and outside the classroom. As educators plan, these trends (as they are today) must be integrated into action. Predictions for our digital future may be right or wrong in their direction, but trend analysis can always provide direction as we sail over choppy or smooth seas toward the horizon.